Category Archives: Issues: The Girl Child

When Preparations Replace Desperation

150508_Mothers Day FB
Mothers and daughters can both benefit from Coptic Orphans programs.

“B’edaya has had a big impact on my life; it makes me feel that I’m not a burden on my kids, and I’m able to manage my household finances and prepare for my daughter’s marriage.”

When Shereen, a budding small businesswoman and micro-loan recipient, said these words to our staff, what stood out was her mention of preparing for her daughter’s marriage.

As we look ahead to launching a new round of micro-loans in March though our B’edaya microfinance initiative, I’m struck by how Shereen’s words show that just a bit of capital can change the life of a female entrepreneur. Her family members also feel the positive impact, with potentially life-changing results.

Her observation particularly sticks in my mind because, with economic hardships rising sharply in Egypt, Coptic Orphans field staff have noticed a serious increase in young girls being married off early. They usually end up in that situation because families – particularly those without male heads of household, whom this project serves – can’t cope with feeding “extra” mouths.

Early marriage, as anyone who’s familiar with it knows, can devastate the life of a child. The repercussions for a girl’s health, education, economic security, and happiness can be impossible to overcome.

As just one example of early marriage’s traumatic outcomes, a 2014 study by the American University in Cairo’s Social Research Center, in partnership with the Ford Foundation, found that 27% of women who were married before they turned 18 had been physically abused by their husbands.  

So the ability to prepare for a daughter’s marriage, as Shereen points to with pride, is hugely important.  

Widowed mothers who are able to start or build up their small business with micro-loans are able to do something that’s almost impossible without financial stability: prepare for the future.  In Shereen’s case, that translates into being able to get ready for her daughter’s marriage, rather than being pushed headlong into arrangements that her whole family may later regret.

These are the kinds of results we count on from the micro-loans. As important as they are to filling stomachs with food and bank accounts with savings, the biggest changes often become apparent over time. The girl who doesn’t get forced into early marriage, the mother who feels her own self-worth — those are the real payoffs.  

We’ve had fantastic applications for the upcoming round of this project, and we plan to disburse these 0% interest micro-loans to coincide with Mothers Day and International Women’s Day in March. I look forward to sharing details of some of the new business projects we’ll be supporting in the months ahead.

For now, we’re grateful for your support, and we continue to count on it to achieve the results Shereen speaks of. We believe in mothers who can prepare for the future, and in freeing young girls from early marriage!

How the Girls’ Love and Tolerance Awakened a Community

160126_VGP GG
The Valuable Girl Project honors young women’s voices.

I’m writing today with sadness, because Leila, one of the participants in the Valuable Girl Project, recently passed away. Like all of the Little Sisters in the project, Leila is someone we cherished. Her loss is felt deeply by staff, family, and her friends.

Yet, I also want to share the remarkable way the girls united after Leila’s passing, and how that also brought together their Christian and Muslim parents.

Leila (not her real name) was struck by heart problems while traveling out of Upper Egypt. By the time she could be treated, it was too late to save her life. In the wake of this tragedy, her fellow Little and Big Sisters were sad, but consoled each other. And, amazingly, they decided that they should be part of the public mourning.

“All of the girls wanted to be present at their sister’s funeral,” said Susan, coordinator of the project site.

I can’t tell you how unusual that is, not just in a town in Upper Egypt, but in all of the country. Cemeteries are, as a rule, just about as segregated as it gets. For the girls to unite around the memory of their friend, and persuade their parents to permit their show of collective grief and solidarity, was an extremely rare event.

Leila’s family was really overwhelmed by the girls’ decision to come together, and as a group including both Christians and Muslims. And, somehow, this brought the community together in a way that hadn’t happened before. It seemed to make them value the project even more, and increase their determination to sustain it.

“We really want to see this project continue,” Rana, the mother one of the Valuable Girl Project participants, told Susan. “Even if it means we have to keep it going without funding, somehow.”

Thanks to generous donors whose specially dedicated contributions provide all the support for the Valuable Girl Project, there’s no danger of the project shutting down. In fact, we’re just as committed to it as the parents, and we’re identifying participants and sites for 2016.  We’re spreading the messages that girls and young women are a benefit to themselves and society when they have access to education, that Christians and Muslims can overcome the obstacles facing them. And we count on everyone who shares these values to stand with us.

This work makes a difference. We can see it in the way the girls came together when Leila passed away, surprising their community with their love and unity. We can see it in their parents’ desire to continue the project, no matter what stands in the way. Together, we’ll keep spreading tolerance and access to quality education for these valuable girls!

Giving Girls Education and Respect: It Works

The Valuable Girl Project creates a safe space for learning.
The Valuable Girl Project creates a safe space for learning.

This time last year, I wouldn’t have expected to be able to deliver an update like this one on the Valuable Girl Project. But here it is:

Not only did Samia get excellent grades, but her Big Sisters improved the literacy rates in her hometown!

You may remember Samia from my blog post “Breaking the Cycle” last November. She’s the kid who entered the Valuable Girl Project with a chip on her shoulder — cursing, stealing, and hitting the other girls.

The project’s Big Sister-Little Sister model, which creates one-to-one mentoring relationships, seemed to do Samia a world of good. She stopped hitting people, learned social skills, and started making friends.

Samia’s transformation, which I mentioned last fall, reached another milestone this summer. During my visit, one of the project coordinators handed me Samia’s report card, which she’d proudly shared with her role models.

“EXCELLENT” grades in Arabic, math, and science!

When I saw those grades, I wondered if Samia’s father knew about this huge achievement. Her dad is behind bars for life, more or less.  Would he be proud that Samia is making progress toward escaping his generation’s cycle of violence and poverty?

Seeing Samia’s grades confirmed for me, once again, that kids from the poorest households (even those where they’re more likely to be hit than hugged) can be transformed by education, love, and respect.

But girls can’t flourish in a community that’s crumbling. That’s why the Valuable Girl Project also aims to be a resource to the cities and villages where it operates.

It’s a good start to provide, as the project does, a safe space for the Big Sisters and Little Sisters to learn together, particularly when the pairs are Christians and Muslims.

But to really have an impact, other effects have to ripple outward from the project’s five sites in Upper and Lower Egypt. This summer, I found out about an exciting way that this aspiration became a reality.

Here’s what happened: The community development association that hosts Samia’s site discovered that many students in the area couldn’t read or write, despite being enrolled in school. In response, they organized a special training program in literacy tutoring skills.

The association approached the project’s Big Sisters, and 18 of them participated in the training. Next, the girls volunteered in a local literacy initiative. Together, they taught reading and writing to 200 kids! A pre- and post- evaluation of the children’s reading skills showed an average improvement of 60%.

It felt good to hear this, knowing that literacy has a huge positive impact on a child’s life chances. Not only that, but the Valuable Girl Project had benefited not just one girl, Samia, but an entire community.

I love that the Valuable Girl Project’s effects are beginning to radiate outward, from individual lives to communities. That’s the power of education and respect. When we give them to girls, they shine!

Here’s another post about these girls and their site: Girls, Tolerance, Pyramids (And Other Wonders of the World)Stay tuned to learn more about the Valuable Girl Project by subscribing to this blog! More updates coming soon.

* Names and identifying details in story are changed to protect the privacy of the young women in the Valuable Girl Project.